(Pro Tips for Largemouth Bass are available here.)
Springtime Fly Fishing
-- Dr. Martin Arostegui, was the first IGFA angler to reach 200 World Records and is now at 440
Springtime is my favorite season for freshwater fishing, especially in South Florida. As waters warm up and the water levels in the Everglades reach their lowest point of the dry season, many fish migrate from sawgrass areas to deep-water holes and canals adjacent to the Everglades. You can fish from land, canoes, small boats or more traditional bass fishing boats.
This is a perfect time to find that trophy largemouth bass as well as a large variety of other freshwater fishes such as bluegills, redear sunfish, warmouth, crappie, pickerel, bowfin, catfish and Florida gar. I enjoy catching all of them, an attitude that has helped me document over 440 International Game Fish Association world records for various species and line classes. This is the same generalist approach that provides diverse fishing opportunities year round to participants in the FWC's Big Catch angler recognition program (BigCatchFlorida.com).
Springtime is also a great time to fly fish for largemouth bass. I like weedless poppers that imitate small frogs and cast them with a 9-weight fly rod and floating line. It is important to use weedless poppers, so you can cast them into structure or over lily pads without fear of the fly becoming stuck. If the top water bite is not happening, I switch to black or purple rabbit strip flies and cast a sinking fly line. I have caught many big bass using these techniques. Fly-fishing for smaller fish can be a lot of fun. I recommend a light fly rod, say a 5-weight rod and a small panfish-size popper. This set up will attract many species including all kinds of sunfish. Occasionally, a large bass will inhale the small popper.
All freshwater areas are fragile ecosystems that require our care and attention to remain healthy. Protect the habitat and carefully handle and release fish that you aren't going to keep, or can't keep legally.
Ladies please note that your trophy fish may be a World Record. There are many freshwater record opportunities for lady anglers in Florida, in part due to new categories being opened, see IGFA.org for details.
Smart Trolling Motors Search, Find, Chase and Remember for You!
-- Todd Kersey, is owner of “The Florida Fishing Network” and a well-known bass fishing guide
The last decade has seen a boom in technology; the fishing industry has witnessed fishing poles get lighter and more sensitive and reels that cast further with ease. Daily advancements in tackle are unveiled, such as lures that light up or have sonic vibrations, and fishing line twice-as-thin and twice-as-strong as just a generation ago. Electronics are smarter and able to find fish better — not only under the boat, but also alongside. Don't forget about power anchoring systems, like Power-Pole.
Advancements in tackle, boats, rods and reels are small and steady over time. If you look at where the trolling motor was and where it’s going; it could be the biggest single fishing advancement of the next decade!
Let’s break it down…
Huge engineering advancements have gotten the trolling motor to this point. Today you can track trails and mark spots with little effort. The modern day advancements of integrating the trolling motor with the leading brands of fish finders have opened a whole new world to grow into. Think back to when you first had a PC, then a laptop, followed by tablets and now smart phones.
So ask me why you need a smart trolling motor? My response would be, “why do you need a smart phone?” If you think about what you’re able to do with your phone today, you’re already starting to see why smart trolling motors will be a standard issue for every angler.
Still don’t get it? Let’s imagine you’re out fishing with your favorite partner, your fish finder alerts you that it found a school of fish, it tells the trolling motor where to position the boat and then stops at that precise moment when you should cast. You cast and fish on!
Even better, while you’re taking a picture and releasing the fish, getting a cold drink and giving your partner a high five the smart trolling motor follows the fish, as your fish finder communicates the direction and speed the fish are traveling. Your smart trolling motor does everything while adjusting to a 15 MPH cross wind. You fix your bait, stand back up, your phone communicates with the smart trolling motor, slows down and points to the school of fish, you cast and Fish ON again!
Do you see the future yet!
Freshwater Fly Fishing
-- Steve Kantner, “The Land Captain.” Long-time guide, writer and outdoor communicator (LandCaptain.com)
Freshwater fly fishing? You mean like on a Western trout stream? Sure we do that in the Sunshine State. I built a career based on the premise that it’s highly effective, and easy to learn with a little practice. I guided fly fishing trips from Everglades canals to ditches in strip malls. Customers caught tarpon, snook, largemouths and bluegills—and everything in-between. What did I learn while we flailed away? That most fish were hooked within a few feet of the bank, and that the species changed according to season. Speaking of seasons, here in South Florida we only have two: a rainy period that stretches from June to October, and the rest of the year, which is essentially a drought. When the water starts dropping, usually sometime in December, predators are forced into canals where there’s more competition. That’s when they’re sitting ducks for a well-placed lure. Fly casting differs from spin and plug casting in that the weight of the line delivers a lure that’s practically weightless. This enables anglers to cast diaphanous (and more-effective) offerings that fall to the surface with scarcely a ripple. The method is deadly: a term eschewed by fly fishers who’d like us to believe they release what they catch. Theirs is a “Conservationist Thing” and something worth striving for. Fly shops and retailers can help choose an outfit: typically a 7- or 8-weight spooled with a floating line. The catch phrase here is “nothing fancy.” As far as fly patterns, one stands above the others: the cup-faced popper. Largemouths assault the larger sizes—#6 through 1/0—while the smaller versions wreak havoc on pan fish: both natives and exotics, including occasionally, the butterfly peacock. Toss a “bug” near the shoreline, or emergent vegetation, before beginning a short strip retrieve. Although weed guards are essential for fishing around cover, I seldom see them on commercially-tied bugs—another reason I make my own. Here’s the lesson I hope you remember: if there’s a hidden subtext to freshwater fly fishing, it’s that it has little to do with status or image. Fly fishing, in contrast, is everyman’s sport and a sure-fire way to enjoy explosive action—especially in springtime when the water drops.
-- Terry Tomalin, Visit Florida & Fishing Insider; Outdoor Editor, Tampa Bay Times (FishingCapital.com)
Florida is full of small lakes and ponds that just aren’t accessible by powerboat. You can walk the shoreline and cast for bass, but nothing beats that on-the-water vantage point for working weed beds and drop-offs. That is where a kayak can come in handy. A decade ago, canoes outsold Kayaks at a rate of 5-to-1, but today, those numbers are reversed. These easily maneuverable boats are well suited for freshwater, for when it comes to stalking big bass you won’t find a quieter watercraft on earth. Kayaks are relatively easy to paddle and steer. If you want to reposition your fishing platform for that perfect cast, a few flicks of the paddle will get you there. Kayaks are also light. The average plastic boat weighs between 50 and 80 pounds. The average person can put a kayak on the roof of a car without throwing out their back. With a kayak, there is no waiting in line at the boat ramp. Just pull your car alongside the road and slide your kayak into the water. These boats are also virtually indestructible. Unlike a fiberglass hull, you don’t have to worry about running into tree stumps. They require virtually no maintenance. If you are really picky, you might rinse it off with fresh water after paddling. But that is about all it takes to keep one in shape. And when you look at the cost of a sea kayak vs. a bass boat, there is no comparison. Most kayaks cost less than $1,000, and kayaks hold their value. If you see a new model you like, trade it in. Most dealers sell used boats as well as new ones. And if that isn’t enough to get you in a kayak, think about the exercise factor. If you want a good workout, you’ll get it paddling a kayak. Who said fishing was a lazy man’s sport?.
Don't ever stop fishing
-- For Homer Circle, by Glen Lau, Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, cinematographer and author (GlenLau.com)
Glen Lau’s Fishing Tribute to Uncle Homer:
Homer Circle (1914– 2012), best known to millions of anglers and readers as “Uncle Homer,” was still fishing with me at 97. We met when I featured him in the movie “Bigmouth” and developed a close friendship that included almost weekly fishing trips on our favorite Florida waters. No man ever embodied the love of bass fishing more or provided more tips to anglers then he did in his 36 years with Sports Afield and penning BassMaster’s “Ask Uncle Homer” column. I took this photo of Uncle Homer with an 11-lb., 5-oz. trophy Florida largemouth just a few months before he passed on. Our last trip was just five days before he died. We fished from 2 in the afternoon until 5, and he caught six and I caught five, which is just the way I like it. So the tip I want to pass on from my fishing buddy is make time to fish and fish for a lifetime. I’ll close with his own special prayer:
The Fisherman’s Prayer
by Homer Circle
God grant that I may fish until my dying day;
And when at last I come to rest, I’ll then most humbly pray;
When in His landing net I lie in final sleep;
That in His mercy I’ll be judged as good enough to keep!
Live bait fishing
-- Todd Kersey, Chair, Florida Freshwater Fisheries Coalition (www.FLFFC.org)
Many anglers enjoy fishing with live bait, as a fun, productive way to catch panfish, bass and countless other freshwater species.
Here are a few tips to improve your success with both catch and release. First use circle hooks. They work really well to hook more fish with less effort and using circle hooks helps hold the live bait in place properly. They also tend to hook the fish in such a way that, if you release them, they are subject to less injury and survive better.
Second, start by learning, watching and reacting to the fishes’ feeding habits while fishing. Gut hooking fish happens for various reasons, but in live-bait fishing it mostly occurs by letting the fish take the bait for too long before setting the hook. I have learned over the years to pay attention to each fish you catch that day. When you reel your first fish in, look where the hook is located. Throughout the day the hook set will change with the feeding cycle of the fish. As the bite slows, the fish tend to carry the bait before eating it. Adjust the length of time you let the fish take your bait, by how the previous fish was caught. Learning the fish’s feeding cycles and using a circle hook will help prevent you from gut hooking your next fish!
Take a kid fishing
-- Shaw Grigsby, Tournament angler, Host of “One More Cast”, Author of “Bass Master Shaw Grigsby: Notes on Fishing and Life”
Some of my fondest memories are of the times when I went fishing with my parents, children and grandson. As I look back on those memories, it was not the fish that I remember the most, it was the experiences.
The most important thing I have learned about taking a child fishing is to make it their day. If they get to the water and don’t want to fish, that’s okay. Allow the kids to do what they want, ride around in the boat, wade and catch little fish along the bank, or go swimming. When they are ready to fish, they will.
Once you get to fish, let them land the fish, even the ones you hook. Take a minute and look at the fish, its fins, gills and colors. Show them how to gently hold the fish, let it go and watch it swim away or take it home and let them help you prepare it for dinner.
Take time to observe what is going on around you while you fish. Watch for wildlife, you never know what you will see. Fishing is a wonderful way to introduce our children to the outdoors and to begin to teach them how to care for the environment.
Butterfly Peacock Bass
Trophy peacock bass
-- Alan Zaremba, Owner/Operator of Worldwide Peacock Bass (www.FloridaPeacocks.com)
Peacock bass are special to me — I’ve been making a living by guiding for them for more than 20 years — but trophy peacocks are even more extraordinary. Butterfly peacock bass are smaller than largemouth bass, and each angler will have his or her own opinion, but for me any peacock over 4 pounds is a special fish — what I consider a “trophy,” and qualifies for the Big Catch angler recognition program. Trophy peacocks can be caught year-round, but late February through April is best when these fish start spawning and become more territorial and more aggressive. This spawning period begins first in the southern canals, and starts later — around late May — in the northern extent of the peacock’s range, like Lakes Osborne and Ida. Of course, cold weather can delay or disrupt this pattern.
When the time is right, you’ll find trophy peacock bass over a hard surface such as submerged rock or concrete — in preparation for spawning — the opposite of the soft, sand bottoms preferred by largemouth bass. Like trophy largemouths, however, the bigger peacocks are often found deeper. My best lures for trophy peacocks are bucktail or Road-Runner jigs, in 3/8–1-oz. sizes. I prefer chartreuse/ white, red/white, or red/ yellow. You want to keep the jig moving with a bouncing motion on a tight line, and repeat until they eat the jig. You have to find the fish to catch them — it’s all sight fishing — and I wear a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. The difference a good pair makes is like night and day. I strongly advocate catch-and-release during this time period — released peacocks will return to where they were caught and continue their spawning activity. These fish are special and different, very much worth protecting, and Florida has a great peacock fishery — thanks to the FWC.
Peacock bass fishing
-- Alan Zaremba, Owner/Operator of Worldwide Peacock Bass (www.FloridaPeacocks.com)
Angling enthusiasts travel from all over the world to South America to seek the beautiful and aggressive peacock bass that, thanks to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s foresightedness, we have right here in the canals of south Florida. After extensive research and discussion, peacock bass were stocked in box cut drainage canals of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the early 1980’s, to help control smaller, less desirable non-native fishes and convert them into a sport fish that anglers can enjoy.
Myself and many other fishing guides, bait-and-tackle shops and local businesses have prospered as a result. Anglers wishing to fish for these and other exotics may want to seek the advice of a local fishing guide, but here are a few tips to get you started.
Peacock bass are different than most North American sport fish in that they are almost exclusively caught during the day. My favorite lure is a #9 floating Rapala, fished on a medium action rod, and using 6-pound monofilament. Another option is to toss a 3/8ths oz. jig with a curly tail. For jig fishing, I prefer a medium-heavy action rod, and load 15-pound braid, with two feet of 20-pound monofilament leader.
These rigs will not only capture peacocks, which I release, but often entice native bass or other non-native fish to strike. Jaquar guapote and Mayan cichlids, which should be placed on ice and taken home for a meal rather than being released, are now part of Florida’s Big Catch angler recognition program.
-- Mike Baker, Five Time Bass Pro Crappiemasters Classic Qualifier
To catch crappie you must first understand their habits. To begin with, remember crappie always look up. They are not bottom feeders. Crappie like to hang around some type of structure, such as stumps or docks. They will almost always be on the darkest side of whatever structure they are near—shade under a dock, for instance. Since they look up, keep your baits above them. This can be done with a slip bobber changing the depth until you get a bite, or by jigging your bait up and down and targeting shady areas. Crappies’ favorite bait is the minnow. Use a large minnow on an Aberdeen hook, or tip a jig with a smaller minnow so as not to offer a combined bait that is too large for the crappies’ mouth. This technique can be used either from a dock or a boat and is a way anybody can catch crappie.
Catching crappies year round
-- Mike Baker, Five Time Bass Pro Crappiemasters Classic Qualifier
Most people think that crappie are a seasonal fish, but the truth is that in Florida crappie can be caught 12 months of the year. After the spring spawn, they do not disappear, they are pretty much in the same areas they were during the spawn just not quite as aggressive and possibly a little farther out. Rather than protecting their beds, they are following the bait fish in schools. Regardless of the depth of the water put out several rods with your bait suspended at various depths between one and five feet, where the oxygen content in the water is better. Take a #2 wire hook or jig with a minnow hooked in the lip and either drift or troll, chances are you will catch one. Once you catch a crappie pay attention to the depth of the bait and set the rest of your rods to the same depth. Then work the general area where the first one was caught, hopefully more will follow.
-- Don Minchew, Catfish Tournament Organizer and angler
Flathead catfish are now one of the top predator fish in the river system. In order to catch them during the day, I recommend fishing close to structures or mouths of sloughs and creeks that dump into the river. For late afternoon or night, fishing off sand bars is usually the best. I prefer fishing with a 3/0 to 4/0 reel and a medium to heavy rod with 4 to 8 ounce lead rigged Carolina style or a 3-way (grouper rig) and 40 to 60 pound test line. To catch larger ones, I use hand size live bait with a 4/0 to 6/0 hook. Smaller ones can be caught on worms, crawfish, shiners, or other live baits.
The blue cat is a scavenger catfish. I recommend you fish current breaks and mouths of sloughs where you have multiple streams of water coming together. Cut bait is my bait of choice. I prefer mullet entrails or the head and entrails of an oily type bait fish, such as freshwater skipjack, shad or bream. I use a 2/0 to 3/0 reel with a 7 feet long medium to heavy action rod, along with 30 to 40 pound test line, 1 to 2 ounce sinker and a 3/0 to 6/0 hook based on the size of the bait.